Friday 14th July
It was our friends’ big birthday year (50!) and we had got them presents to open “on the day” but the real gift was a weekend away with us in the van.
They did not know, but we had also booked a day boat on the Kennet and Avon canal as a surprise. These friends – Sue & Paul Rogers – always used to come away on my Dad’s boat with us every summer and we know they love their canals, so we hoped they’d be pleased.
They came over to us at at 2pm and we set off for Devizes (although they had no idea where we were going, of course!). It was a beautiful sunny day and we arrived at the Devizes site, where we had visited once before with them, and got set up. I had requested a specific pitch, and whilst they could not accommodate that request, they put us on a very pleasant pitch, backing on to the canal and with a fair degree of privacy. We got the sun shade out and settled down for a cuppa.
Our thoughts turned to alcohol and we popped into Devizes to get some supplies. We had a few drinks while we waited for dinner (I had pre-made a lasagne) to heat up and then we ate our dinner. During the evening, we told them where we were going the next day and we all went to bed reasonably early, so that we could be in Trowbridge by 09:30 to pick up the boat.
Sat 15th July
We arose at 08:00 and had breakfasted and got ready, including packing the picnic and tea & coffee making kit, by 09:00.
We had hired the boat from ABC Boats at Hilperton Marina. Things have changed! When we arrived, I paid the security deposit and we then had to sit and watch a safety video – even though we are all experienced boat handlers. But then I guess, anyone could say that and if they had shown us the video, I guess they were absolved in the event of an accident. Such litigious times we live in, eh?
Anyway – we were soon away on the good ship “Cheers”. We had brought our bikes along on board. We wanted to give Sue & Paul a little time to themselves on the boat and also to get a little exercise for us and Arch.
The first (and only) lock of the day was the one at beautiful Bradford on Avon. It’s a lock we have done quite a few times and is always both a pleasure and a pain. There are usually a fair few gongoozlers, but the lock passes under the main road through the town so crew have to be very careful. Today was the day of the Canal Fete and there were stands and a live band and someone had crocheted lots of pretty thing to adorn the lock surround. It was a real hive of activity – even more than usual!
The lock safely negotiated, we decided to get the bikes off and go for a cycle. Archie was very excited – despite his age (just a few days short of his 15th birthday) he loves a good run with the bikes. We left Paul R at the tiller and set off. The towpath through the town is well used and it was very busy as we started off, with people strolling, bikes, pushchairs, more bikes and dogs. Lots of dogs! The crowds soon thinned out, though, and we enjoyed our ride. As we were off the boat we took a few photos of the boat’s progress.
After a while we re-boarded and pressed on towards the next big landmark, the Avoncliffe Aqueduct, where the canal does a big dog’s-leg over the Avon itself and the main Bath to Westbury train line. There is a good aerial photo of it here. One of the Day Boats in front of us made rather heavy weather of crossing it, which slowed us up a bit – not that there is any point in rushing anywhere on the canal! But they were more intent on boozing and they let us overtake very shortly after that, which was a relief.
We hoped to get roughly to the Dundas Aqueduct before we winded the boat (canal-speak for turning round) but in the end, we winded shortly before that and pulled over for a very tasty lunch (Scotch eggs, pork pies, quiche, home-made potato salad and salad). We were joined at lunch time by a stowaway duck.
After lunch we re-traced our steps, back across the Aqueduct, where there were some signs of exuberance, and back through the lock – where we stopped for a lovely ice-cream, as it was now quite hot!
There were still lots of people about at the lock and the band played on. We had a brief look round the stalls and – as mentioned – bought some refreshments and then continued our journey back to the boatyard.
We arrived back at the boatyard a shade early, so went past for a while and then winded again, to maximise our time on board and then we dropped the boat off, collected our deposit and made our way back to the campsite. The campsite has commissioned a handy fish and chip delivery service and, as we had planned a fish and chip supper, this seemed like by far the easiest thing to do – especially as it meant that no-one had to drive. And they were yummy! We spent the evening chatting and laughing and drinking before retiring. All of us were pretty tired,. It’s the fresh air of course!
Sunday 16th July
There was no real rush to get up this morning and we woke up and had a cuppa, before our gallant chef (Sumps) cooked us a full English. The picture below really doesn’t do it justice, as we also had eggs and tomatoes. And toast. It went down very well. More sitting about ensued and then it was time to clear up and pack up, sadly. Weekends have hardly got started before they are over, it seems.
WE were off site before 12 and home by about 2.30. Another great trip on the canal with our besties. Happy 100th Birthday, you two! And here’s to the next trip away in the van, which will be with our niece and nephew – off to Exmoor this year.